Back to Square One
So: how has life been treating me recently? Not that well, it turns out.
One Friday towards the end of June, I was chatting with our head of IT. He’d just come out of a fairly long meeting with a new Board member. “Every time I think it can’t get any worse,” he said, “it does.”
So I went home and dusted off the CV that weekend.
Which was a good move. The next week, that same Board member attended a team meeting and told us that as the company hadn’t been making enough profit for its venture capitalist owners, there would be more redundancies. A week later, I was being pulled into a meeting with HR to be told that I was at risk of redundancy. The company was having to cut back on some functions that fell into the “nice to have but not essential” category, and testing software before release was part of that. What could possibly go wrong?
The intention was to buy a software company that produced a range of off-the-shelf solutions that could meet all the company’s future needs. Again,. what could go wrong? After all, as all IT professionals know, when you buy off-the-shelf packages, they always stand up on your own servers perfectly first time, interface seamlessly with your heritage applications, and are completely compatible with whatever data schema your existing records have been formatted to. Who needs testers?
There was some mention made of the possibilities for redeployment elsewhere in the company. It was at this point that I decided that I was going to take some measure of control over this process. The company only had on file the CV I drew up for my IT testing experience. So I put together an addendum, listing all the things I’d done that weren’t on that CV – worked to CEO and Board level in research and support, attended Parliamentary Committee sessions on the adoption of EU legislation into UK law, negotiated with Departmental managements, promoted policies for national adoption by a major trade union, spoken at conferences, run exhibitions, briefed journalists for national newspapers, escorted and received VIP visitors from overseas governments, written books and articles, won international photographic awards – the sort of skills that I ventured to suggest that the company probably didn’t have access to anywhere else.
It made no difference, but it made me feel better, and the Board member’s face was a picture the next time I saw him. The first time I’d encountered him, he’d been rubbishing the testing work I’d done on a major project which had been badly specced up, so its failures when it was deployed to the real world really weren’t my fault. I’d basically told him that though I might be way down in the food chain and he may be showing me the door, I could and would eat people like him for breakfast.
The company was about to move into new offices, so there was actually some serious testing work to be done to make sure that server migration worked and that the transfer of the business to the new premises was seamless in terms of technology. Part of that was supposed to be done over a weekend, and I was actually asked if I’d be prepared to volunteer to work a weekend, “…but we don’t have a budget for this work, so we can’t pay you. However, we can offer enhanced time off in lieu.”
I (surprisingly politely) pointed out that this was not any sort of inducement, as the company was about to give me all the time off I could possibly want. I declined their offer. To be fair, my line managers were in an invidious position, as they were under a three-line whip to do this job without incurring any extra cost. Nonetheless, I gather that my immediate line manager was congratulated by one of his peers for being ‘courageous’ in making me that offer. And although this was the private sector, ‘courageous’ was being used in its Yes, Minister sense.
The move happened, and the migration plan I drafted in my last couple of weeks worked fairly well, I gather. Less successful was the online announcement of the move to the new office. “Click here for more details!” they posted. Guess what.
The link didn’t work.
I took a certain amount of pleasure in posting back “Your link doesn’t work. Surely this was tested before the post went live? Oh, no, I forgot – you’ve SACKED all your testers.”
Which leaves me with the problem of getting another job again.
Interviews have not been thick on the ground, but they have happened. And come to nothing. One company I went to claimed that I was “a poor cultural mix for the office and the role”. It was the most mono-cultural office I’d stepped into in twenty years. It was fairly obvious to me that I was up against that old bugbear, ageism. That’s now illegal, but that doesn’t stop some employers still using the excuse; they just dress it up in different ways. Rest assured, I’m keeping notes, and any company I suspect of putting forward an ageist excuse, no matter how disguised, for turning me down will go on my Death List against the day when I find myself in a position to take them down, fully legally of course. Anything I can do to disadvantage these companies will be done.
A company I did some contract work for three years ago advertised for a permanent role. That would be ideal, I thought; after all, they’d engaged me for four weeks and retained me for six months (and called me back eight months later when they had a testing staff shortfall and a deadline to meet), so I must’ve done something right. But my application disappeared into the void. The problem was that this company, when I worked for them before, was doing most of their new work in the EU. They’ve now gone very quiet, and I suspect I know the reason why.
Another interview felt more as if I’d stepped into a consultancy. They’d just started on a six-month project to develop the software for a new product, and had no testing resource. The CEO gave me a vast amount of detail on the company, the project, how they got the contract and pen portraits of the development team, leaving me hardly able to get a word in edgeways and thinking “If I’m not careful, I’ll get this job.” It could have been worse. The same afternoon, I had a telephone interview with another company in the same position and developing the software for a similar product – except they anticipated shipping product in October.
Right now, the best irons I have in the fire concern a major engineering multi-national who need testers in one corner of their empire. Except that the recruitment process has been carried out in fits and starts. My ISP suffered an outage at their data centre due to flash flooding earlier in the summer; I went home one day for two telephone interviews to find that neither happened. It turned out that both callers used VOIP – Voice Over Internet Protocol (in other words, use the Internet to transmit voice telephony) and my ISP hadn’t spotted that the flooding had left their interface between VOIP and the voice telephony system broken. So the call from this engineering company got delayed. Then people at their end were out in the field; then they were on leave. The phone interview happened, some two weeks later, just when I’d given up on them. The, two weeks after that, the agency came back to me to say “Sorry, the guy’s been on leave, but they’d like to have you for a face-to-face technical interview.” At which point, I’d have to demonstrate some sort of ability with coding, because their job demands it. They will train me, but I have to show that I’ve got the ability to be trained.
This time, it was my turn to be inconvenient. Because I have just started a two-week contract with a company here in Leicester. It is to test an enhancement to a major client’s existing data communications fit, and all the people who know about it are off on leave – hence the urgent need. I didn’t even have an interview for this one; my CV was sufficiently impressive to get me the gig, although it turns out that I’m not a contractor but a sub-contractor. My contract is with the agency who is supplying contract staff to the client, not with the client itself. Mind you, said client is a massive multi-national with IT management – and indeed, a company culture – that is roughly 50 years behind the times. The process for bringing a new starter onto the system is Byzantine, and is managed wholly from the States – so any message sent for urgent action has to cope with a five-hour time difference. The testers are a floor away from the developers and separated from them by three security-controlled sets of doors. And staff are not supposed to enter the building through the front door – that’s reserved for clients, even though this is nothing like a corporate HQ. Still, one of their testers announced at the beginning of the week that he’s moving on to a new job; so there might be an opening there, and owt’s better than nowt in a crisis, as someone once said.
So: I’m actively looking for work anywhere within a 50-mile radius of Leicester (further afield for the right package – after all, I’m only renting now, and so relocation is not impossible). I’m prepared to do contracting again,. though a permanent role would be preferred. And I think I can claim possibly as much experience as anyone in the testing game. It’s just a matter of getting employers to recognise the value of that experience.